The Cleveland Cavaliers' bid to return to the NBA Finals got off to a rocky start in Sunday's opening-round Game 1 against the Detroit Pistons at Quicken Loans Arena.
Even though the hosting Cavs prevailed by a score of 106-101, they put forth a sluggish defensive effort and needed their three biggest stars in LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love to the rise to the occasion to avoid an upset.
The trio of Cleveland All-Stars was brilliant, with Irving (31 points) and Love (28 points) leading all scorers and James adding 22 points to go with six rebounds and 11 assists. Love also had 13 boards, while Irving had five rebounds, six dimes and two steals.
Nate Duncan of The Cauldron praised Love in particular after he hit two key threes in the fourth, the first of which put Cleveland up 91-88 and allowed the team to never trail again:
Cavs play-by-play man Fred McLeod noted the lineup change Cleveland went to late with Love at the 5—a strategy that wound up making a big difference near the end:
It was James who had the biggest start with 10 points and four assists in the first quarter, including a buzzer-beater layup to put the Cavs up 27-25.
But the Pistons surged ahead in the second quarter, pouring in 10 of 16 three-point attempts in the opening half and shooting 61.8 percent as a team en route to a 58-53 advantage at the break, led by Marcus Morris' 19 points.
Sports on Earth had a humorous reaction to how well Morris was playing:
Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal provided context to how rare it was for the Cavs' perimeter scoring defense to be so lackluster:
Love led the Cavs with 18 at the half, while Irving had 14 but on 5-of-13 shooting. Most notable was how aggressive Love was, as CBSSports.com's Matt Moore highlighted in his analysis:
Detroit had six of the game’s seven first-half turnovers, which helped the Cavs offset a considerable shooting disparity—Cleveland shot 43 percent—and kept the home team in the hunt.
ESPN Stats & Info referenced the dearth of scoring Cleveland got from its role players through two quarters, whereas Stanley Johnson and Reggie Bullock came off of Detroit's bench and contributed three treys:
Johnson, a rookie making his playoff debut, deserves a lot of credit for his willingness to battle James after The King got to the rim at will early for four first-quarter layups.
Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post was impressed with the number the 19-year-old was doing on the face of the Cavaliers franchise:
The solid defense from Detroit's lottery pick forced James to become more of a facilitator, which he did well, as it led to Irving heating up in the third quarter and left room for Love to operate.
Irving came out of the locker room firing with eight unanswered points to get the crowd back into the game. About.com's Will Reeve had a fitting GIF for Irving's form:
However, the young Pistons continued to be undaunted by the playoff stage and remained plenty competitive throughout, carrying a 78-76 lead entering the fourth quarter.
Prominent NBA bettor Haralabos Voulgaris wondered what Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue's predecessor, David Blatt, thought of the contest at that juncture:
Irving and James began the last quarter on the bench, but James re-entered when Detroit's lead swelled to 83-76. That's when Cleveland's comeback charge commenced and led to a big momentum shift the Pistons couldn't overcome.
Cleveland.com's Tom Reed had spot-on analysis of what happened to the inexperienced Pistons down the stretch when they failed to execute:
SirusXM's Adam Schein did a fine job summarizing the key narratives to emerge from Game 1:
Sam Amico of Fox Sports Ohio felt the Pistons had their work cut out for them after going down in the series opener:
The Cavs could stand to improve on the defensive end after they let the Pistons fill it up from beyond the arc. At least James' supporting players in Irving and Love showed up in a big way on the offensive end, helping Cleveland win an unexpectedly tight shootout.
Sunday's adversity may have been good for the Cavs, who are the prohibitive favorite to come out of the East and appeared a bit lethargic against an upstart eighth seed.
Considering how well Detroit shot the ball and still took the loss on Sunday, it seems as though the squad has work to do to steal Game 2 on the road.
Pistons center Andre Drummond isn't known for his finesse or prowess on offense, but he may need to step up and provide significant scoring down low. Otherwise, he'll at least need to crash the offensive glass a lot more often than he did on Sunday, when he got three of his 11 boards on that end.
Whatever Drummond does, Detroit as a whole must step up on defense since it will be hard-pressed to continue relying so heavily on the three-pointer—and may well head back home down 0-2 if its current tactics persist.
Reggie Jackson, who had 17 points and seven assists for Detroit, exuded an attitdue of indefatigable confidence, despite the Pistons losing.
"Nobody on this team fears anyone and we think we have a chance," said Jackson, per the Associated Press' Tom Withers.
Jackson added, "We made some mistakes and they made us pay for them."
Detroit head coach Stan Van Gundy, who hinted at James getting favorable treatment by the officials during an in-game interview, went back on those remarks to a degree afterwards.
"The refereeing had nothing to do with tonight. It was decided by the players as it should be," said Van Gundy, per USA Today's Jeff Zillgitt.
Lue spoke about how shifting Love to center helped swing the game in the Cavs' favor, per the team's official Twitter feed:
Per CBS Cleveland's Daryl Ruiter, Lue also hinted the Cavs had room for improvement on defense.
"I told our team we gotta get out and challenge shots. I think we can play a lot better," said Lue.
James praised Irving for the spark he provided in the third, saying, per Fear the Sword's David Zavac, "We've had horrible third quarters. Ky didn't allow us to have another one."
Humbly admitting to his own postseason inexperience, Love explained how much the support of James and other teammates meant as he found his groove for one of his best games as a Cavalier.
"We had to get into the mentality of playoff mode. We have a number of veterans that have prepared us for this moment," said Love, per Bleacher Report's Greg Swartz.